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E3 2011 - Microsoft Conference

Yes, it’s E3 time again, and time for another series of pseudo-liveblogs, as I detail my expectations for each of the major console-makers’ conferences, update the post with my initial reactions as I watch the live streams, then top it off with my immediate impression on the overall success of the conference and opinion on the direction the company is taking - all of that compressed into one semi-comprehensible post per conference.

Well enough preamble. This year marks one of my more anticipated E3s in recent years. Both Nintendo and Sony will be unveiling major new hardware this year, and this time we’re not talking about a more accurate motion wand or camera (although those may be components in Nintendo’s product). New console/handheld gives us a further view into the future of gaming, letting us get a picture of what we can expect for several years down the road. So what does this have to do with Microsoft? Without the easy excitement of new hardware, they will need to go much further with a pure games lineup to attract the same level of excitement as Sony or Nintendo.

Leaks suggest that we will be seeing a remake of the original Halo ,Gears of War 3, and Forza as at least 3 of Microsoft’s heavy hitters this year. Undoubtedly there will be many Kinect titles as well. This is pretty consistent with the exact same Microsoft we’ve seen year after year: Lots of shooters and racing games balanced with casual games that the vast majority of the type of gamers that would watch E3 will not care about. It seems like the question I’ve been asking of every conference for the last 4 years is whether they can strike a good balance. Microsoft has had a fairly checkered history in recent years, often expending long chunks of time on inane casual games like You’re In The Movies or Kinectimals, which have attracted more mockery than excitement. The announcement of Dance Central 2 may promise welcome comedy relief with more hilariously awkward dancing, but the big hope this year is that we see more games for Kinect that can appeal to gamers over the age of ten.

My personal hope this year is to see some great-looking new XBLA games. XBLA was completely ignored at last year’s conference and has been the source of my favorite games on XBOX360.

Anyway, looks like my pre-conference musing time has run out as the conference is about to start!

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Our cold-open this year is (unsurprisingly) not someone playing Rock Band, but rather a live demo of Modern Warfare 3. MW3 is a non-exclusive third-party game, but maybe Microsoft has some sort of exclusive DLC they will announce? Nope, nothing Microsoft-specific.

Next, a live demo of Tomb Raider - wouldn’t not have thought I’d be saying that a few years go. Wow, opening is brutal. Is Tomb Raider a survival horror game now? Impressive looking, but again not an exclusive

Hooray, Mass Effect 3 next! One of my most anticipated games of E3. But once again, not an exclusive - although I guess ME2 took a long time to come out on PS3. As rumored, ME3 will support Kinect with voice recognition. I will be playing this game on PC, but I guess they could do voice recognition on PC without additional hardware, right? Other than a microphone. Oh man, you get to speak the dialog lines yourself. That will get old really fast. You can also give voice commands to your squad that seem much less efficient than using a controller. Pretty disappointing. I hope there is more of ME3 elsewhere.

Now we will see how Kinect can be used in Ghost Recon. You can use gestures and voice to navigate through menus (for some reason the audience cheers this…?). You can also shoot by opening and closing your fist. Can’t really comment on how well that works without trying it, but I think some healthy skepticism is warranted.

If you’re keeping count, so far 3 of the 4 games that have been shown have been modern/future shooters.

The next presentation is on the XBOX Dashboard. We’re seeing the same sort of voice commands that already exist on Kinect, but the Dash now looks like it has Microsoft’s Metro theme from Windows Phone 7 / Windows 8. Makes sense, and anything is welcome over the existing horrible dashboard. Microsoft announces that Youtube and Bing are coming to 360. I could probably not be less enthusiastic. Oh wait - the voice search lets you search XBLA - that’s actually pretty useful since the existing browsing method is so inefficient.

The 360 is finally bringing live television to the US. But is this available for non-Gold subscribers? If so, that’s pretty neat.

The president of UFC is now coming on stage. This may be a good opportunity to go get a snack…

“At our core, XBOX will always be about games. From this point on, everything we show will be only on 360.” - Good, I was starting to wonder.

Oh man, Gears of War 3 clip set to War Pigs. Bros must be happy (now 4 of 5 demoed games are squad-based sci-fi shooters)

Ryse: A swordfighting Kinect game. Audience cheers as if they have forgotten what happened to this type of game on Wii.

Halo Anniversary edition (another squad-based sci-fi shooter)

Non-shooter game demo: Forza 4. If only racing simulators were not so boring.

Fable: The Journey - I’m surprised by this one. After how poorly Fable 3 was received, I really thought they would take some time off from the series. Seems to be fully Kinect-based and we see the character driving a horse and casting spells with gestures.

Minecraft coming to 360 with Kinect support - interesting announcement. A lot of my friends play Minecraft, though I doubt they would prefer to do it on 360 rather than PC.

More Kinect reels. You can navigate a virtual Disneyworld in Kinect. Children on stage again this year. First gif material of the conference so far. A demo of Kinect: Star Wars - again, this game will have a lot to prove after the Wii Star Wars titles. There seems to be a rather significant lag between the presenters motions and their reflection on screen - about half a second. Seems to result in wild Wii-like flailing rather than real control. Sesame Street Kids Game.

OK, Dance Central is back. Presenter calls out how stupid his dancing was last year, so at least they’re conscious of it. This time we get professional dancers. The routines are still completely cheesy though.

Conference is wrapping up, and our big finish is…a CG trailer for Halo 4. And that’s that.

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So, what to think from this conference. A lot of time was dedicated to Kinect - at least 2/3 of the conference. This probably isn’t very surprising, considering that Microsoft sold a ton of Kinects last year and in many ways that sparked the resurgence of the brand. But as someone who does not own a Kinect and doesn’t plan on getting one soon, there was almost nothing for me. Another major thing to note is that most of these Kinect demos appeared to be pre-recorded. Probably a wise choice given some of the problems with live demos in the past, but it doesn’t really instill a lot of confidence in the technology. We all know from the Wii that even with a great concept, flawed execution can completely ruin a game, so much of this stuff is still wait & see.

Other than the kids’ games, Microsoft still suffers from the same issue that it’s had for years: relatively homogeneous offerings. Modern/near-future/sci-fi squad-based shooters were at least 80% of the showcased games for enthusiasts. Once again, no XBLA games were covered, despite the fact that even the XBLA games we already know about would have brought some welcome diversity for people who don’t want sci-fi shooters and don’t have kids.

Well, we still have Sony’s conference this evening and Nintendo’s tomorrow morning, and both will likely have more for the enthusiast.

collapse Michael Says:

I heard some rumors that Microsoft was going to announce some kind of television service through XBox, perhaps a partnership with ESPN or something like that. Do you give an credence to those rumors?

collapse t-kun Says:

Well, I can directly say that they announced some sort of TV initiative without many details. The impression that I got was that it was mostly network television, so if it’s a question of paying $5 a month for XBOX Live Gold, I’d rather deal with my HDTV antenna.

Microsoft already has an ESPN service that they launched last year. There was a new partnership with Ultimate Fighting Championship this year.

 
 

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